State Senate makes small cut to ferry system budget

Juneau Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan addresses the Alaska Senate in 2014. He plans to introduce an amendment restoring reductions to the chamber’s ferry system budget. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The state Senate’s spending plan cuts funding from the Alaska Marine Highway System – but not a lot.

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Its version of the operating budget shrinks the ferry system’s fuel budget by $370,000, about 2 percent of the total sought.

It also takes $2 million for operational costs out of what’s called the Marine Highway Fund. That holds ticket and other revenues until they’re needed. The House budget put $13 million into the fund and the Senate committee reduced it to $11 million.

Juneau Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan is one of three members of the Senate Finance Transportation Subcommittee. He objected to the change.

“It’s not sustainable. We shouldn’t be spending more out of that fund than we expect to get in ferry revenue. The way to spend more from the ferry fund is to get more people riding the ships,” Egan said.

The ferry system came close to shutting down this month because money had been removed from the Marine Highway Fund. That was replaced in a supplemental appropriations bill passed in March.

The Senate is still working on its full operating budget bill for the fiscal year beginning in July. During an April 3 meeting, Egan said he would try to restore cuts to Marine Highway Fund through an amendment.

“The Alaska Marine Highway System is our road. It just happens to be on water. It needs a stable budget like the rest of the department. Roads, airports and ferries,” Egan said.

The Senate has proposed deep cuts to the marine highway budget in previous years.

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Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.